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No Stone Left Unturned in India's Paris 2024 Quest

G Rajaraman is a sports journalist with 41 years’ experience, and is an alumnus of the first cohort of the ELMS High Performance Leadership Program (HPLP). He prides himself in being a lifelong student of sport, his heart beating for Indian sport.


Medal tallies and sporting glory are surely on fans' minds. In this piece, he gives Indian sports fans an overview of how India’s sports governing bodies, working in lockstep with respective Associations, have been instrumental in ensuring that the Indian contingent and medal hopefuls have the resources they need as they bunker down for the ultimate contest.


 

With less than a month left for the start of the Olympic Games, the two-part question uppermost in the minds of many a fan of Indian sport is a simple one: Has India planned well enough for its athletes to come back with a larger medal haul from Paris than from Tokyo? And, are the Indian competitors well prepared for Paris 2024?


Critics and connoisseurs alike need no reminding that modern Indian athletes are a lot more fearless than their predecessors, and believe that they can rub shoulders with the world’s best and emerge with their heads held high. They are training smarter, riding on the immense support they get in their quest from the evolving ecosystem.


The Government and National Sports Federations have left no stone unturned to have as many Indian competitors as possible in Paris 2024, and to ensure that they are in optimal preparation. Be it in providing support for training and competition in engaging coaches and support staff, India’s athletes have been helped to be ready for the Olympic Games.


Indian sports at the Olympics Games 2024: A closer look


There is no better example than Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra being supported in finding a base overseas in preparation for the defence of his Tokyo Olympic Games gold. Steeplechasers Avinash Sable and Parul Chaudhary are among leading middle- and long-distance runners training in Colorado Springs in the United States of America. 


Take for instance the Indian 4x400m relay teams which secured qualification for the Olympic Games with performances in the World Athletics Relay Challenge in Nassau. This would not have been possible without planning and support to let it spend a month in training in the United States and the Bahamas ahead of the competition.



It is a well-known fact that the Badminton players have been among the biggest beneficiaries of such support. Since their qualification for the Olympic Games is based on World Rankings, a number of them compete on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) circuit thanks largely to Government funding. Their requests for coaching and other support staff have mostly been acceded to with alacrity.


Indian Wrestling has seen some upheavals in the past year and a half. Yet, when the focus returns to competition, it can be said that the grapplers, particularly the women, can be expected to sustain the medal winning streak which Sushil Kumar started with a bronze in 2008 in Beijing. The Ministry Has unflinchingly supported the proposals sent by a number of wrestlers to train overseas.


From Weightlifting perspective, Mirabai Chanu has been wrapped in cotton wool since she won the Tokyo 2020 bronze medal,, competing mainly in events that were necessary for her Olympic qualification and ranking. Though she will again be the sole Indian competitor in Paris 2024, the Indian Weightlifting Federation has been protective of her back, shoulders and hip.Besides letting her reach France well ahead of the Olympic Games, the Ministry has cleared the addition of renowned American physical therapist Dr. Aaron Horschig to the support staff that will be in attendance. It is such minute details that can make the difference between a podium finish and missing it.


The Indian Shooting team has achieved an unprecedented 21 quotas with the pistol and rifle squads nailing all available berths in Olympic competition at the Chateauroux Shooting Centre. It is being hoped – and with good reason – that the team will deliver clutch performances unlike in Tokyo 2020. Government has responded to NRAI’s calls for support with alacrity.


Take other disciplines like Swimming and Eventing in Equestrian sport. 


In Swimming, even though he has not secured a qualification time so far, Srihari Nataraj has applied for and secured Government support in his quest to nail such a time in the 100m Backstroke. In the last week of May, chasing  54.01 (Olympic Consideration Time), he clocked 54.68s to win silver in the Mare Nostrum Tour Meeting International de  Canet-en-Roussillon. 


Similarly, though Anush Agarwalla secured a berth for India in Dressage, there is a chance that Fouaad Mirza could make it in Eventing. He had competed in all but one event in the qualification cycle. However, when he was named a standby by the International Equestrian Federation, the Ministry stepped in with support so that he could be in a state of readiness.


At the end of the day, it is the athlete who has to go out there and perform in this most competitive, multi-discipline celebration of sport. And the Olympic Games is acknowledged as the pinnacle of such competitions, though some sportspersons may admit that competing in and attaining success in World Championships could be just that bit tougher.


Yet it must be remembered that working on elite athletes alone will never be enough for India to become a sporting nation. More State Governments must feel encouraged to invest in talent at the grassroots level, taking responsibility for a critical part of the assembly line. Instead of only making a beeline to reward successful athletes, they should also support the evolution of sport at all levels.


At the end of the day, it is the athlete who has to go out there and perform in this most competitive, multidiscipline celebration of sport. And the Olympic Games is acknowledged as the pinnacle of such competitions, though some sportspersons may admit that competing in and attaining success in World Championships could be just that bit tougher

If TOPS is the ultimate support system for athletes identified as those with potential to compete in the Olympic Games and the Khelo India scholarship is the early recognition of talent that can evolve with time, there is no reason why all State Governments should not replicate these at the lower level and be a happy part of the assembly line.

Indeed, there is more that India in general and the National Sports Federations and their respective State Associations in particular can do to focus more light on the Long-Term Athlete Development pathway. Considering that it takes 8 to 14 years for an athlete to develop from a beginner to an Olympic medal hopeful, more can be done at the bottom of the pyramid.

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